RNLI to mark centenary of Fethard lifeboat tragedy where nine volunteer lifeboat crew lost their lives and Wexford lifeboat crews rescued ten people
On the 20 February 1914 fourteen volunteer lifeboat crew with Fethard RNLI set out to rescue the crew of the Norwegian Schooner the Mexico, which had lost its bearings in terrible weather and had been driven onto rocks at Keeragh Island off Fethard-on-Sea in Wexford. Of the fourteen lifeboat crew that set off in the Helen Blake lifeboat only five were to survive. What followed was a three day rescue attempt involving lifeboats from Kilmore Quay, Dunmore East and Rosslare Fort along with a local tug boat. Members of the local community watched the unfolding drama from the shore and waited three days until the surviving ten men were brought safely home.
A hundred years later members of the RNLI in Fethard and Rosslare have planned a weekend of events to commemorate the loss of the nine lifeboat crew and to acknowledge the incredible rescue efforts by the volunteer crews from four lifeboat stations who rescued ten people.
The culmination of these events will be a gathering of lifeboats from Fethard, Rosslare, Dunmore East and Kilmore Quay in Fethard Bay at 10.30am on Saturday 22 February for a wreath laying service at Keeragh Islands, followed by a memorial service at the lifeboat monument in Fethard-On-Sea at 2.30pm.
Other activity planned over the weekend includes a lecture from local historian Liam Ryan in St. Mary’s Hall, Fethard and a special concert by Wexford Sinfonia with new music composed by Liam Bates to mark the event and held in Wexford County Hall this Saturday at 8pm. A wreath laying service will also be held at the monument at Rosslare Burrow, Rosslare Strand on Sunday 23 February at 3pm.
On the afternoon of 20 February 1914 when the Fethard lifeboat launched to go to the aid of the Mexico, a huge wave struck the lifeboat and filled it with water. More waves followed and the lifeboat was dashed against the rocks and smashed to pieces. Nine lifeboat crew were drowned and the remaining five made it onto the Keeragh island and assisted the eight crew of the Mexico in leaving their wreck, which had struck the island. Here they remained together for three days enduring numerous rescue attempts by neighbouring lifeboats and a local tug in terrible storms.
On the Monday two of the survivors were rescued by the Dunmore East lifeboat and ten by the Rosslare Fort lifeboat and the tug boat, Wexford. A crewmember from the Mexico succumbed to his injuries and died on the island.
The Fethard lifeboat crew who lost their lives were the Coxswain, Christopher Bird, Michael Handrick, Patrick Stafford, William Bird, Thomas Handrick, Patrick Roche, Patrick Cullen, James Morrissey and William Banville. Richard Bird survived but died two years later from injuries he had received. The survivors were John McNamara, George Crumpton, Garrett Handrick and John Kelly.
Today eight of the volunteer lifeboat crew at Fethard RNLI are descendants of the Fethard lifeboat crew from 1914. They are sisters Emily and Nuala Carroll descendants of Patrick Cullen; Michael Roche, descendent of Patrick Roche; Eoin Bird, descendent of Christopher and Richard Bird; father and son Thomas and Dylan Nolan, descendants of John McNamara and Eileen Murphy and Mairead Foley, descendants of Patrick Cullen.
The relatives will all be involved with the commemoration which will include the Fethard RNLI inshore lifeboat along with Rosslare, Dunmore East and Kilmore Quay lifeboats, launching on Saturday to lay wreaths where the lifeboat crew lost their lives a hundred years ago.
Commenting on the anniversary and the plans to commemorate the tragedy Fethard RNLI lifeboat helm Eoin Bird said, “The story of the Mexico tragedy would not be that well known outside the local community but there are many relatives of the men that lost their lives still living here and who have been brought up on stories of the Mexico and who are very proud of their ancestors.
It is hard for us to imagine what they must have gone through at that time. Today our lifeboat crews have state of the art equipment and kit. Those lifeboat men rowed out to the island with their only thought being to save the lives of that crew. I am very proud to be a descendent and to be a lifeboat man today.’
Rosslare lifeboat man Fergus Wickham, a retired RNLI Coxswain and grandson of Edward Wickham, Second Coxswain on the Rosslare Fort lifeboat during that time and great nephew of Coxswain James Wickham, is also proud of the lifeboat crew who carried on and rescued the survivors, “It must have been extremely difficult for them both mentally and physically. On the one hand they knew nine of their fellow lifeboat crew had drowned but they also knew they had to save the remaining men on the island who had no shelter or sustenance. They put aside their thoughts for the men who had lost their lives and heroically battled through terrible conditions to carry out an incredible rescue.’
*The laying of wreaths at Keeragh Island by the four RNLI lifeboats from Fethard, Rosslare, Dunmore East and Kilmore Quay is dependent on weather conditions on the day and operational duty.
Notes for Editor
Photographs from the time of the lifeboat crew and survivors are available.
Photographs from the event in Fethard will be available taken by Patrick Browne
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Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the Ireland and the UK. The RNLI operates over 230 lifeboat stations with 43 in Ireland. The RNLI is independent of the Coast Guard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824 its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 137,000 lives. The RNLI is a charity registered in England, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland.
Charity number CHY 2678 in the Republic of Ireland and registered in England and Wales (209603) and Scotland (SCO37736)